Remembering Antietam

This post was written by Alice Browne, N-YHS cataloguer

September 17 marks the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single day of fighting in the Civil War, which left almost four thousand dead. It was not a conclusive victory for either side, but did put an end to Lee’s invasion of Maryland. N-YHS photograph and manuscript collections contain images and eyewitness accounts which make the horror of the battle very vivid. Accounts of the battle and its aftermath include one written from Libby Prison by Daniel Ludlow Thompson (War of 1861-1865, Thompson, Daniel Ludlow). A Union teamster, Ebenezer Wells, describes troops having to march over bodies. A Union chaplain, Samuel L. Merrell, cared for the wounded on the battlefield, including Confederates, and describes the horror of soldiers having to march past decaying bodies two days after the battle.

A single shelf of the collection holds two manuscript diaries associated with Antietam, one of a Union soldier, one of a Confederate (BV Rothert and BV Ross). William Rothert, a seventeen year old New York City resident, was killed at Antietam. He served in the 9th New York volunteers, also known as Hawkins’s Zouaves; his diary records campaigns in Virginia, and includes sketches of Zouave uniform. The second diary, BV Ross, which contains terse and vivid notes on campaigning in Virginia with the 20th Georgia regiment, is something of a mystery.  A note inside the front cover reads: “Diary of a Rebel Officer taken from his body after the battle of Sharpsburg Md by J. Stuart.” The last entry, in the printed space for September 17th, consists of only one sentence: “Shelling heavily & early.”  It has been attributed, probably though not certainly, to Captain Albert B. Ross, of the 20th Georgia regiment. Some notes near the end of the volume, on cash accounts describing outlays for soldiers’ equipment, are headed: 1862-Amt’ pd. Capt. Hart by A B Ross as Capt. Co “A” 20th Ga. Regmt.  However, Ross survived the war, so it cannot have been found on his body. Perhaps another Confederate officer picked up the diary after it was lost on the battlefield; more likely J. Stuart embellished the tale of its finding, thinking the lost diary must belong to one of the many who lost their lives.




  1. Colin Edward Wells says

    Hi there,
    I’m very pleased that my Great grandfather’s writings are being used in this way. I’m sure that he would be proud of his Grandson Edward Wilson Wells who served in the Royal Navy in WWII and saw similar horrors! He is now 91 years old! I am wondering how many Grandchildren of the American Civil War are left?
    You can read his account of his WWII experiences at http://www.duffpublishing.ca/waskesiu/05-edward-wells.htm

    Yours sincerely

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